The Fantastic Journey
5. A Dream of Conquest
A Dream of Conquest is yet another episode where a corrupt leader needs tasking. Special guest star John Saxon warmongers while a hideous furry pig dwarf is filled with hideous furry pig love for Sil-El. McDowall appears to have fully supplanted his co-stars, as yet again he takes advantage of the episode’s juiciest material. It’s a good thing too, as there’s little nourishment elsewhere.
Willaway: It never seems to change. Not even here.
This time, the society encountered is from another planet (Matteran?) Consul Tarrant (Saxon) is planning to lead an army to victory over other zones (hence the title). He rules in place of the natural leader Luther (Robert Patten), who has been stricken with a seemingly terminal illness (we later learn that this was Tarrant’s doing, as was poisoned en route to Earth).
Little effort is made to flesh out this colony; presumably they are peaceable enough in their natural state, but the divide between the militaristic Tarrant and the approach of Luther is uncertain. It’s doubtful the army suddenly came into existence under Tarrant’s watch. And everyone seems to consider the hideous furry pig man to be a mindless animal, so there’s hardly a surfeit of enlightenment outside of Tarrant’s circle.
Perhaps surprisingly, Tarrant is courteous to the travellers (we’ll see this again in Turnabout), and instructs that they should be escorted to the boundaries of the next time zone. But, before this can happen, he has to reluctantly allow Fred and Varian to take a look at Luther (“And their fees are very reasonable”, jokes Willaway).
Meanwhile, Liana telepathically communicates with the hideous furry pig dwarf (a Neffring). Willaway, always surprising in his motivations, attempts to inveigle himself with Saxon. The reason he does this? A sexy lady (Lenore Stevens; she doesn’t appear to be Luther’s wife, maybe just his crumpet) is saddened by the war plans but knows there is only a chance of stopping Tarrant if the secret location of the army is discovered (yes, it’s all rather thin). Willaway, the charmer, says he will get the information but on the condition that, “… would you promise never to frown again?”
Willaway: Best we had was a bomb, based on a thermo-nuclear principle.
Willaway playing Tarrant’s stooge is a lot of fun. It gives him a chance to show off his knowledge and simultaneously piss of Tarrant’s Number Two, Argon (Morgan Paull), as he appeals to Tarrant’s vanity. McDowall has a run of humorous dialogue. “I don’t like to take the full credit”, he comments of the creation of the atomic bomb. He also dismisses his friends with “Oh, they are an idealistic group”. And he and old pro Saxon play off each other enjoyably; they’re complementary opposites in demeanour, so every scene featuring the pair is lively.
The problem is, Saxon is stuck working with a wafer-thin character. Tarrant is bad because he is bad. He wants to wage war because that’s the kind of thing he does. This is the kind of society that only exists on the page during the day the travellers visit it; no one has given it much thought.
Scripter Michael Michaelian is credited for the rewrites of Vortex. He would also pen the far superior Funhouse. Other credits include Logan’s Run, Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Martin-starring War of the Worlds. Aside from the Willaway element, and Saxon’s performance, this is a disappointing piece. Yet another episode where Fred and Varian are stuck practicing medicine, and a convoluted secret that needs to be revealed (I’m still not that clear why Tarrant needs to keep his army’s location a secret, given that power resides with him).
Varian: Willaway, was I mistaken about you?
Inevitably, the doctor’s plan falls apart when his friends inadvertently expose his game. His conspiring has not gone unnoticed, and the discussions of Willaway’s motivation provide the most continuity with previous episodes (Willaway also talks about the zones visited in the series, perhaps unwisely, informing Tarrant that they represent no threat). Fred refers to him as a “turkey”. Varian’s infallible abilities seem progressively on the blink as the series progresses (perhaps his less evolved chums are contaminating him? I’ve read that NBC got cold feet over his Jesus-like healing powers so faded them out). You have to groan as he and Fred slowly come to the conclusion that Willaway has been working undercover.
Willaway: You could crush them like bugs.
There’s a scene where cruel tyrant Tarrant uses the hideous furry pig dwarf for target practice. Evidently, it’s designed to elicit our sympathy for the beastie. But this grunting little booger is more of an irritant than a cute Ewok type. He’s just the sort of cheap creature design work you expect to see in a ’70s series, where the producers know that aliens get the kids watching but are faintly embarrassed that they have to go there.
Still, on the plus side the sequence establishes that Katie Saylor runs very well.
Fred: I cannot imagine Willaway as 007, superspy.
Naturally, all is okay come the end. Despite the series’ overt moralising, it seems that it is acceptable for the hideous furry pig dwarf to exact (underwhelming) mortal revenge on Tarrant. Hooray! One also gets the impression the Neffring would get a little too intimate with Sil-El, given half the chance. Fred cures Luther of his leukaemia-like condition with a blood transfusion. Hooray! Acceptable order is restored.
Willaway: Ah, the generals. They are numerous but not good for much.
At least Willaway furnishes the week’s moral in a classical context, quoting Aristophanes’ The Acharnians. It slightly makes up for the general lack of sophistication throughout. As for Sil-El, I’m a huge fan (and of his owner); he has a good showing, better than most of his companions Unfortunately the poor pussy is frequently mauled by the hideous furry pig dwarf.